Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Boo at the Zoo!

Zoo Atlanta celebrates Halloween by combining two of the world's greatest things: exotic wildlife and kitschy decorations!


I don't know if you guys knew this, but I really, really like going to the local zoo. In fact, it's pretty much my default weekend activity: if I having absolutely nothing going on Saturday or Sunday, me and my girl will just head up to Grant Park and stare at otters until it's nighttime.

Also, I am a fairly big fan of Halloween -- a shocker, I know. So, when I heard Zoo Atlanta was celebrating Halloween with a special, multi-weekend event -- titled, aptly enough, "Boo at the Zoo" -- you pretty much knew my ass was going to make an appearance.

Rather than give you a half-hearted photographic essay (although we here at IIIA most certainly aren't above such shameless click-bait schemes), I decided to make my own unofficial online brochure, listing seven reasons why all metro Atlantans worth a damn ought to trek to "Boo at the Zoo," pending the opportunity arises...

THE NEIGHBORHOOD ATMOSPHERE!


For those unfamiliar with the outlay of Atlanta, it's a really weird mixture of rural and urban trappings. Zoo Atlanta isn't actually in the city's more metropolitan area -- instead, it's smackdab in the middle of Grant Park, which is one of the oldest residential districts in the city. 

Even weirder, Grant Park is pretty much encircled by the 'hood, including the environs around Grady Hospital, which probably treats more per capita gunshot wounds than any other medical center in the nation.As such, the drive to Zoo Atlanta is certainly an intriguing sociological tour, where suburban transplant hipster aesthetics merge with authentic downtrodden African-American street culture. 

The end result? Primarily, you wind up with a lot of liquor stores with astonishingly detailed Super Mario Bros. graffiti murals on them. 


THE REALLY, REALLY LOW-BUDGET DECORATIONS!


In "Halloween-izing" their grounds, I think Zoo Atlanta couldn't have spent more than $1,000 on their decorations. I know that sounds like a hyperbolic underestimate, but trust me ... they seemed to spare every expense making their park "Boo" worthy in 2014. 


There were a lot of really random inflatable displays around the grounds, but hardly any of them had any real "animal" themes to them. In fact, I think they simply accepted surplus donations from nearby seasonal Halloween shops as tax write-offs or something. Of course, there were trick or treat booths for the wee ones (I counted, at bare minimum, 1,400 Elsas on the premises), but beyond a couple of Frankenstein and ghost dollies strung up between trees and bales of hay shucked upon the walkways, the All Hallows Eve vibe was really, really minimal. That's not to say the Zoo didn't put some props to good use for the event, however...

MEERKATS!


Oh, my goodness, you don't know what fucking adorable is until you've seen meerkats playing with Jack O' Lanterns. This ALONE was worth buying a membership card, if you ask me. 


And for bonus points? The pumpkins were cut out to resemble twin meerkats!Talk about going above and beyond the call of duty, Zoo Atlanta pumpkin carver person!

THE WACKY "ENRICHMENT ACTIVITIES!"


Of course, it's pretty hard to find a way to say "we're just putting a bunch of wacky shit in the animal cages" in marketing speak, so "Boo at the Zoo" offered several "enrichment activities" for its furry and scaly residents. All in all, I give their displays a solid A for effort. I mean, this scarecrow was enough to get the notoriously elusive bongo to wander its way back into the zoo, so that probably tells you something. 


And if you needed photographic evidence of just how cost-efficient some of the props were? They gave a number of animals, including this less than enthused lemur, autumnal colored construction paper links to play with. Did Dollar Tree sponsor this thing on the down low or something?


I could watch gorillas do shockingly human things all day --  and I could watch a gorilla eating a pumpkin for the next 15 millenniums. 


And probably the weirdest in-cage prop on display? They gave the bush dogs -- as the name suggests, an animal that's not really known for hanging out in the open and all -- several gigantic orange cubes of ice. It doesn't have to make sense, just as long as it's goddamn adorable, right?

KANGAROOS!


Kangaroos are quite possibly my favorite animal, so of course, I was there a half hour early for the special LIVE enrichment activity held at Outback Station. It's pretty much sharing the same real estate as the petting Zoo, which -- irony of cruelest ironies -- is sponsored by a company whose bread and butter is literally killing as many living things as possible. 


BUT OH GOD THE ADORABLENESS! I saw a little baby kangaroo actually hanging out inside his mama roo's pouch! Although considering his leg is shoved halfway in his own ear, you got to figure that set-up is uncomfortable as all hell. 


Oh, and as far as the "enrichment" activity went? They just gave them a paper bone to play with and strung up some empty milk jugs with crappy looking spooky faces drawn on them with Magic Marker. Unsurprisingly, the marsupials preferred just smelling the sand instead. 

ALL THE USUAL ZOO STUFF, TOO!


Outside of a special inflatable corn maze thingy (complete with a bored DJ spinning Talking Heads tunes to a bunch of pre-schoolers) and the largely superficial props, it was still a fairly average day at Zoo Atlanta, which most certainly is never a bad thing. I mean, any day I get to rub my fingers over a bronze facsimile of a Malaysian tiger's taste buds, I'm generally pretty fulfilled. 


I also got to see a few animals that I've never noticed before, including this binturong -- which is apparently some kind of bearcat from southeast Asia. And also, it's lazy as hell. 


Oh, and since my last visit, they added GIANT OTTERS! The two on display were a veritable odd couple, with one frantically swimming around and rollicking in the grass and the other one (pictured above) just kind of laying there trying to nap. Periodically, the more active one would try to push the other one into the pool, which was a.) hilarious and b.) so adorable I almost wept. 


And lastly, believe it or not, this macabre vulture cage display is actually an all-year-round attraction. And it's far and away the creepiest damn thing you'll see at the Zoo, so parents ... take your kids to see this thing first-thing

TWO WORDS: REPTILE DIORAMAS! 


The meerkat and gorilla displays were a sight to behold, obviously, but for my money, the best demonstrations at "Boo at the Zoo" were in the park's reptile house. Watching lizards, snakes and turtles slinking around, with mini Jack O' Lanterns in their glass booths, was just the most Halloween thing the Zoo could have done, outside of making tarantulas fight each other to death while "Tubular Bells" played on the PA system. 


I mean, just look at that. It's so minimal, yet so awesome at the same time (that's a rattlesnake in the background, behind the cactus, if you were wondering.) What the Zoo was able to do here, with virtually zero resources, is pretty amazing. Plus, I sleep a little easier at night knowing someone on staff was probably paid minimum wage to jam plastic bones inside a Komodo dragon's habitat,


Needless to say, the Halloween dioramas in the not-too-distant future could be outright awe-inspiring, no?

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